Sunday, July 31, 2016

SHOTS FROM LONDON (Part 5): The Queue at Wimbledon

When Newman suggested before the trip that we queue to watch Wimbledon, i very nearly blanched and didn't really find his suggestion appetizing.  What i had heard was that one had to queue overnight on open grounds (i.e. pitch a tent, cook one's food, etc.) just to be able to score a ticket for the next day's tennis matches. Tough luck if it's raining cats and dogs.

Newman forwarded to me an article from The Telegraph, which explained the All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet (AELTC) Club's set-up: Every day, they make available a limited number of tickets for the "show courts" (i.e. Centre Court, Court No. 1 and Court No. 2) - rumoured, but not confirmed,  to be five hundred in total; and several thousand "grounds passes", which entitles one to watch the action (unreserved seats) on the smaller, outside courts No. 3 - 19. 

So, if you are a tennis fanatic and/or want to see the top stars play, then you will have to camp overnight for the 'show court' tickets. But if you are content to see lesser lights in action on the outside courts, then just drop by 7AM on the day and join the queue; and more likely than not, you will be able to obtain a grounds pass. 

So, on a balmy Tuesday morning, Newman and i alighted from the Southfields underground station (Important tip: Get off at Southfields, not at Wimbledon station) and hurried off to find the queue.

Check out the subway station seats decked out in the traditional Wimbledon colours, dark green and purple, with "In Pursuit of Greatness" printed. Puts one right in the mood to watch some tennis! 

We followed the direction where everyone else was walking to, and pretty soon saw this sign:

We came upon an open grassy parking lot. Lo and behold! Thousands and thousands of people already lined up! [gasp]

The important thing is to get one's Queue Card, being handed out to everyone by the stewards. DO NOT LOSE THIS.  It is numbered and date-stamped (see below). No, you cannot get queue cards for "five of my friends, who are coming in a bit"; strictly one per person.  Newman and i were the 3,498th and 3,499th people on the queue for this day, so i silently hoped they'd let at least 3,500 in!

As it was just 7:30AM, and the AELTC gates open at 10:30AM, there was nothing to do but wait. (and wait and keep on waiting, whether patiently or not) So here are some guidelines to make the wait more bearable: 

Bring a book or a tablet for entertainment. Make sure your attire (especially your shoes) is suitable for inclement weather (the British lady behind us stated that, even if it was stormy and pouring hard, people simply unfurl their umbrellas and raincoats, and continued to be in line). Bring some snacks and drinks, although fortunately, there were some food stalls and portable toilets.

It had rained the night before, so the grass was slightly damp with some muddy patches. One enterprising newspaper, The Telegraph, offered an appetizing promotion: Just buy a copy of the newspaper, and one gets a 'special' gift.

 It composed of a textile cloth (in checkered colours very similar to dark green and purple, to boot!) with wet-proof backing, perfectly suitable for laying on the ground; as well as a transparent rain poncho. So one could lie on the ground in comfort:

The Japanese guy in front of us had bought the paper, and very kindly offered us to sit with him, much to my eternal gratitude. He was taking a week-long holiday, and visiting London and Prague. 

Another reminder: Please do not try to jump the queue. The stewards do their rounds and check from time to time. It is simply unsporting behaviour to do so.

Slowly, but surely, the queue lurched forward in increments; and we could feel a bit of nervous excitement as the prospect of finally entering the gates (and having our queue cards converted to actual grounds passes) neared. 

As for those people camped out in tents (they were on the queue for tomorrow's show court tickets), here was one way they passed the time:

As we keep on walking towards the gates, we passed by this sign. No selfie sticks, please. 

Once inside the gate, we passed the very strict security checks, akin to airport standards. There are restrictions on what items one can bring, as well as the size of one's bag/backpack, so it is imperative to check the official Wimbledon site beforehand. 

When you see this sign below, you feel like "yes, we've made it!!" :D

Finally, Newman and i reached the ticket turnstiles. Which brings me to another tip: Bring cash. The grounds pass costs GBP25.00, strictly on cash basis only. Don't tell me you lined up for hours, and your wallet lacked cold cash? Not very smart. 


And once you entered the hallowed grounds, all the hassle and inconvenience experienced from the queue just evaporates the very moment you see the famed grass courts:

(Stay tuned for the next Wimbledon post!)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

SHOTS FROM LONDON (Part 4): Gelato Festival at Old Spitalfields Market

The ending point of our East End London food walking tour (see previous post) was near the Old Spitalfields Market, so i decided to check it out further. It proved to be quite worthwhile, as this market has a good mix of stalls selling antiques, leather goods, books, vintage eyeglass frames (!), etc.; as well as funky shops (Montezuma's innovative British chocolate, in particular) and restaurants.

Lots of interesting food stalls here. And there was a huge lunch time crowd, composed mainly of white-collar office worker types. 

But the happiest 'stumble upon' of all was the ongoing Gelato Festival right in the middle of the market.  I really dug the old-style poster very much (below).

This event was apparently quite a big deal. Now on its 7th year, the Gelato Festival has nine stages (Florence, Parma, Rome, Naples, Turin, Milan, London, Berlin, Valencia), involving twenty two of Europe's master gelato makers. 

Check out the Gelato Laboratory! 

To start eating the gelato, all one needed to do was buy a Gelato Card. A bit pricey, and with the catch that the Gelato Card was valid only on the day of purchase. In short, if you buy a card for GBP18.00, you get to pig out on eat-all-you-can gelato for one day!

Fortunately, for folks like me who were conscious of their waistlines and calorie counts [*fit of coughing*], there was the option to buy a Gelato Card for one scoop at GBP5.00, or two scoops at GBP8.00.

I duly chose the two-scoop option. First flavor i tried was the Ricotta Cheese, which proved to be quite light and refreshing and full of goodness and light! I could have gone back for a 2nd and a 3rd and a 4th scoop for this flavour!

The guy behind the counter was a friendly sort of bloke as well, so i mentally reminded myself to get his name and introduce him to my friend cheeky Femme. ;-D

Next up was an array of flavours from maker Pernigotti.

After some deliberation, i chose the Peru 'Molto Intenso' flavour. It proved to be too intense (bordering on deep, bitter taste), and i could only finish half of the scoop. It wasn't bad, to be clear; just best eaten in small doses.

I already bookmarked the Gelato Festival website, and hope to 'accidentally' stumble upon it again next year, in another city maybe!

SHOTS FROM LONDON (Part 3): To the East End!

I joined an East London food walking tour organized by Free Tours by Foot. Unlike the usual food tours that charge a fixed fee, these guys have a 'pay-as-you-wish' business model: As their company name implies, the walk itself is free. 

As they lead you to the various stops of the food tour, you just purchase whatever food and drink you like. Then at the end of the tour, if you liked it, you give the guide a tip. Otherwise, otherwise. 

So on a hot morning, our group met up at the Liverpool Street underground station, one of London's most bustling, as it also connects trains to out-of-the-city destinations. Our guide was Jessica, a transplanted American who was taking her PhD, and rocking the biker look quite well with her arm tattoos; she proved to be quite voluble and full of interesting anecdotes.

The East end of London has been where waves of immigrants have settled over the centuries, from the Irish to the Jews and now, the Bangladeshis; and thus, the food scene was quite varied. 

First stop: Arzu Sweet Centre. This is a bit of a misnomer, as they have both sweet and savoury goodies in the store.

I tried the Lamb Samosa, which is best eaten when still piping hot. Great texture of the crust, and the filling was spicy. Very good!

Next up was Poppie's Fish & Chips, which has been around for more than 50 years. Jessica exclaimed effusively that this was not the best fish & chips in London, but the best fish & chips in the entire United Kingdom!! Strong words, i must say. 

She said this was because Poppie's used only peanut oil in frying their fish & chips. Apparently, peanut oil has a high smoke point, making it ideal for deep frying; and does not absorb the flavor of the foods cooked in the oil.

Here below is the price list of Poppie's:

So, without further ado, we ordered the 'kids' (yes, i kid you not ;-D) portion of their famous fish & chips. Here's how it looks:

The verdict? (drum roll, please) Pretty good, but i really wouldn't say it was out of this world, or something.

Moving on, we stopped by two bagels (they spell it as 'beigel') shops very close to each other, only separated by one other store between them.

On the way to the bagel shops, we had passed by this chocolate store Dark Sugars. I was pretty ecstatic that we retraced our steps and entered it.

Look, FREE samples! Yeyyyyy! [fist pump]

This is what all that dark, intense cocoa does to your brain. Hehe! 

Dark Sugars sources all its cocoa beans from the West African country of Ghana. As their website intones, "At Dark Sugars, we want to bring you quality chocolate without pretension and with all the passion of our rich and vibrant culture. Come on by and make yourself happy."

I entered the store, and savoured the rich aroma of all their chocolates on display.  So many different truffles and pearls! It was so hard to decide which variants to buy!  Fortunately, Dark Sugars sells their chocolate by weight (minimum 100 grams), so one can pick and choose at will. 

I don't know about you, but i was a happy (make that ecstatic) camper when i left their store! :-D

Last stop of the food tour was DumDums Doughnut store. As you can see from their window display, they ask the rhetorical question, "best doughnut in the world?"

Of course, yours truly willingly went in to try out their goods, all in pure, wholehearted service to you, dear readers! ;-D 

Look at these beauties! Their doughnuts are 'never fried, always baked', thanks to their proprietary, patented baking process.

 I eventually choose this chocolate glaze-topped doughnut, with cream filling. Flat out one of the best i've ever tasted - the cream was light and not cloyingly sweet; the bread was fresh; and the chocolate tasted just right.

If i could have brought home a box of 12, i would! 

Some photos of interesting food outlets i saw while our group was walking (below). So much places to check out, so little time.

The Smokey Locomotive. Choo choo!

Meat Porn. Just the name alone, panalo na

Pizza Purist. Look at that pile of wood!

Gandhi's. Hmmm, now i wonder what Mahatma and Indira and Rajiv have to say about this!

[Groan] *SMH* No, just no.